Dear Love Desk,
Every year the holidays feel so stressful. How do I manage to find time for all the friends and family who want to catch up and still find time for my beloved and myself?
Dear Stretched Thin,
You can’t do it all during the holidays. And you are not alone in this. But I can relate since I felt the anxiety rise into my chest after I read your question.
I know of what you speak, ST. The rush to enjoy the season and our loved ones — and to deal with obligatory celebrations — begins somewhere before Thanksgiving, making us feel like we’re in the Death Star trash compactor with those walls closing in. On top of family and friend time, holding down jobs and attending our children’s basketball games, we are presented with so many choices and events leading up to the holidays as schools and companies cram in parties and concerts. We soon grow as cranky as the toddler presented with too many options about what to do or eat. This is tantrum territory.
Here’s what I think the problem is, not just for you, but for all of us. It’s about the shortening of the days and what that really does to us biologically and spiritually. It’s also about the nature of time and the meaning of time.
Our intentions during the holiday season are to love and experience love. Christmas, after all is about Christ, and love was ultimately His message. But all this modern loving has gotten out of hand, and morphed into a martyrdom of giving things and of ourselves and one too many a glass of spiked punch. This year, for instance, a woman I know who bakes the most extraordinary Christmas cookies just couldn’t do it this year. She had to give that up to spend time with her family.
The early darkness and winter light shifts our bodies into something akin to a hibernation mode that can mimic the modern SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. An article in the Daily Mail says researchers found that, like animals, many of us are prone to hibernation-like tendencies as the days grow shorter. Since ancient times, mid-winter has been a spiritual, inward-looking time –– a time to meditate and reflect. Yet we find ourselves in long airport security lines or squished by a sea of humanity in Times Square because we just spent our last two paychecks on Hamilton tickets.
Maybe we want to get under the duvet and curl up with our beloved –– and/or a whole pizza — because we need to. Our instincts are correct. And perhaps this is why all the parties and socializing, beyond a certain point, are so abrasive to our souls when what we really crave is quiet time with our loved ones.
This is where that nasty word “no” comes in. We need to start making love to that word, and pare everything down to its most simple during the holidays. I’m not saying it’s easy — I know it’s not easy. I’m feeling it as we speak, ST, as I contemplate the conflict between a handful of New Year’s Day parties and my desire to start reading a new novel by the woodstove, and stay in my sheepskin slippers. If “no” were easy you wouldn’t have written me with your question.
There are practical solutions and many articles on the Web about how to say it. Then there are intangibles to consider, like the essence of time. During the holiday season, we end up hating time when we should be making friends with it. In a treasure of a book called Time and the Art of Living, writer and philosopher Robert Grudin says this: “To assuage our sense of temporal impotence, we vilify time, characterizing it as an adversary, a destroyer of things (tempus edax rerum), calling on it to fly to a stop…”
Sound familiar? Poor time! Poor us! At holiday time, we need to embrace time more –– to slow it. That might also help us see what the best use of our time is.
Grudin further says: “The happy individual is able to renew daily and with full consciousness all the basic expressions of human identity: work, love, communication, play and rest.”
So perhaps the answer, ST, is to remember this last observation from Grudin and apply it to the holidays. It isn’t about satisfying everyone. Some daily things –– as well as some special holiday things –– get dropped. The answer might also be in the modern — yet very useful — cliché about staying present and conscious at every moment so we can know what it is each moment, during the chaos of the holidays, requires. Who needs us most — who do we need most? Is it children, a cousin, a co-worker or our own self? Maybe it’s a stranger. And what do we really want? Maybe there is a time we do want and need to bounce from party to party. If we are alert in the moment, we have a better shot of finding this answer, since it is impossible to do it all over the holidays.
You’ve probably already heard this, but I will repeat: get plenty of rest, fresh air and healthy food during next year’s holiday stretch. This advice, along with lavender baths, really does make a difference.
Come to think of it, we should practice this — and saying “no” –– all year long. Then by the next busy season, whenever that may fall, we will have some new psychic muscles.
Also, ST, the friends and family you don’t see during the holiday crunch will be there, still loving you and wanting to see you after it’s all over. And think how blessed you are to have so many people wanting the gift that is time with you. D.H. Lawrence wrote, in his short story The Virgin and the Gypsy, “Time being, after all, only the current of the soul in its flow.”
I hope this helps, ST.
With love from The Love Desk
The Love Desk comes to you each Friday, when The Editor of the Love Desk will attempt to answer any and all questions about love –– and life –– since you can’t have one without the other. Send your questions to: LoveDesk@theberkshireedge.com. Your contact information will be kept confidential.